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  • Writer's pictureMary Byler

What does Support look like?

Written by Mary Byler and Tara Mitchell

As I have navigated the world after going public with my childhood sexual abuse story, I have noticed some patterns in how people treat child abuse survivors. 

For example, when people reduce survivors to one single thing, their experience of abuse, this is often displayed in the language they use to talk about survivors, language that is inherently dehumanizing. Anything that reduces people to one single characteristic, like experiencing abuse, inherently dehumanizes them, even if that was not the intent. Dehumanization of survivors leads to infantilizing survivors.

Labeling survivors as:






Mentally ill


Simply the product of the abuse they suffered 

Never able to reach their potential

Lacking in faith

Not attending the right church or not attending church at all.

It is dehumanizing.

It leads to people thinking survivors are:

unable to make good decisions

in need of people telling them how to live their lives

incapable of living meaningful and fulfilling lives

wrong in how they navigate the aftermath of trauma even if they are not harming others

This is infantilizing abuse survivors, assuming they cannot live full lives and must rely on other people to tell them how to live. Sometimes this can even result in survivors telling other survivors their emotions and experiences are invalid since we don’t see or experience our abuse the same as they did. 

"Shuts survivors down forcing them to take your advice as the end all be all. 

Surviving is next to heresy!" -Jesus Biscuits

So, let's talk about the idea that survivors of child sexual abuse can't reach their potential.

I've seen it over and over.

Well meaning people tell a survivor all sorts of things. 

These things are often rooted in stereotyping survivors as damaged, unhealed, incapable of reaching their potential, needing rescuing, being mentally ill, needing saving, needing more prayers, needing more faith, and needing to be told what to do, among other things. 

Because of their own bias, which ensues from these limiting beliefs, they try to take control of the survivor’s life, “for the survivors own good.”. 

If the survivor doesn't follow their idea of how they should navigate the aftermath of the trauma they experienced, they tell the survivor how they're navigating the aftermath of trauma is wrong. So wrong. Over and over. 

They judge the survivor harshly and may even talk about other survivors being this way or that way in negative terms to the survivor. 

This eventually leads to harmful actions towards a survivor who doesn’t comply with their expectations and demands. 

In some cases it leads to well meaning people even spreading survivors business around. Behind their backs. 

This is inherently dehumanizing to survivors. When you add the attempt to control the survivor’s life, it's infantilizing.  And many of these actions result in layers of trauma being heaped up on already traumatized and vulnerable people, who, if they were empowered to be in charge of their own life, have the capacity to thrive! 

They have the capacity to live a meaningful life. 

They have the ability to be joyful in life! 

They are capable of making decisions about their own life. Rather than reducing survivors of child sexual abuse to only one characteristic - their abuse - and using that to treat them as broken or incapable, let’s work with survivors and support them in finding their voice. Let’s recognize them as not just survivors of child sexual abuse or sexual abuse, but also as friends, partners, people who love photography, people who hate to cook, people who live full lives with varied interests. Support their growth as human beings; don’t diminish what they survived by claiming they can never grow beyond it.

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